Cross-Currents E-Journal (No. 25)

December 2017
Editors' Note
Wen-hsin Yeh, University of California, Berkeley
Sungtaek Cho, Korea University


Binding Maritime China: Control, Evasion, and Interloping

Eugenio Menegon, Boston University
Philip Thai, Northeastern University
Xing Hang, Brandeis University

Maritime Asia is a confusing morass of contested sovereignties and geopolitical rivalries. Yet the seaways of Asia have, in their history, also fostered cultural exchange and economic integration. The liminal maritime zone surrounding China remains a paradox between seas and ports teeming with legal and illegal exchange and governmental policies attempting to monopolize and restrict that exchange. Vast and fluid, maritime China has long hindered state control and fostered connections determined as much by bottom-up economic and cultural logic as by top-down official impositions. This issue of Cross-Currents proposes to reexamine the rich history of maritime China and adjacent areas by tracing the interactions of the three initiatives of control, evasion, and interloping. This special issue stems from a conference the guest editors organized in Boston in 2015, with support from Boston University, Brandeis University, Northeastern University, and the Taiwan Ministry of Education. We invited a distinguished group of scholars to explore the many facets of maritime China’s history. Our key postulation was that state control, evasion from that control, and interloping within the interstices of China’s maritime world literally bound an array of actors and locales for distinct but interrelated goals, from the early modern era to the modern era. This concept is encapsulated in the title of the current issue, “Binding Maritime China.” What “creates” and gives coherence to the concept of maritime China as a social, economic, political, and geographic space is, to a large extent, how human actors (Chinese and Western merchants and businessmen, navy officers, bureaucrats, fishermen, pirates, missionaries, and so on) productively interacted or experienced conflicts and resisted one another’s control. They did so across oceanic and coastal spaces, administrative boundaries, class lines, bureaucratic institutions, commercial organizations, and competing imperial formations...



Leonard Blussé, Leiden University

Perhaps the most salient feature of the transformation of China’s economic policy is its tack into the oceanic sphere. This is a break with the country’s traditional past as an inland-looking, continental power: the landscape is now complemented by the seascape. This article suggests that China’s new relationship with the sea asks for a master plan for reclaiming a neglected maritime past—the invention of a national maritime tradition, a newly tailored past to explain China’s former relationship with the sea.

Keywords: Chinese maritime history, One Belt One Road policy, maritime anthropology, nautical traditions, mariculture

Eugenio Menegon, Boston University

The office of the procurator of the papal Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide) offers a unique case study of noncommercial interloping in the long eighteenth century in the Pearl River Delta, and reveals the complexity and fluidity of life at the intersection of Asian and European maritime environments in that special human ecosystem. The oceanic infrastructure of the Age of Sail and the Sino-Western trade system in Canton sustained the Catholic missionary enterprise in Asia, and the professional figure of the procurator represented its economic and political linchpin. Procurators were agents connected with both European and Qing imperial formations, yet not directly at their service. They utilized existing maritime trade networks to their own advantage without being integral parts of those networks’ economic mechanisms. All the while, they subverted Qing prohibitions against Christianity. Using sources preserved in Rome, this article offers new insights into the global mechanisms of trade, communication, and religious exchange embodied by the procurators-interlopers and their networks, with significant implications for the history of the Sino-Western trade system, Qing policies toward the West and Christianity, and the history of Asian Catholic missions.

Keywords: Guangzhou, Macao, Canton System, Propaganda Fide, papacy, Jesuits, Portugal, Kangxi Emperor, Clement XI, Yongzheng Emperor, Qianlong Emperor, Qing dynasty

Peter C. Perdue, Yale University

After the First Opium War (1839–1842), British and American merchants negotiated with Chinese officials in Shanghai to work out the framework of the new treaty port regime. One key player in these negotiations was Wu Jianzhang, a Cantonese merchant who became circuit intendant of the Shanghai region. Wu, however, also had links to Cantonese sailors and anti-Qing secret societies. When the Small Swords Society took Shanghai in 1853, he found himself entangled in conflicting responsibilities and networks. Foreign traders and Chinese officials regarded Wu, like other middlemen on the Chinese coast, with a mixture of respect and distrust. Wu’s situation, however, was not unique to the mid-nineteenth century. This article compares Wu to other intermediaries who played similar roles in the sixteenth and late nineteenth centuries, in order to show the ways in which Wu, his predecessors, and those who followed in his footsteps connected China to the wider world by navigating the treacherous waters of diplomacy, war, and commerce. The work of John K. Fairbank, who in the 1950s pioneered the study of such people as Wu Jianzhang, can find new meaning in the twenty-first century, enabling us to understand the transnational implications of China’s local social history.

Keywords: Shanghai, Opium War, treaty ports, hong merchants, Canton, Fujian, Taiping rebellion, Small Swords Society, Qing dynasty, China coast, Wu Jianzhang

Peter Thilly, University of Mississippi

This article examines the Asian cocaine trade of the early twentieth century. It argues that the distribution of cocaine into Asian colonial ports was controlled by people from southeastern China who took advantage of a convergence of factors: consumer markets in India and Southeast Asia, shifting political winds surrounding drug use, the rise of Japan, and the translocal nature of southern Fujianese society. Xiamen was not only a port but also the hub of a society that was omnipresent in the maritime world of early twentieth-century Asia: natives of southern Fujian resided in Calcutta, Singapore, Rangoon, Manila, and Kobe, constituting a huge percentage of the crew and passengers of the steamships that connected those places. The implications of this story are relevant to two important themes of this special issue: the history of control and evasion in maritime Asia, and, relatedly, the ways in which states sought to extend their jurisdiction over the seas. Fujianese cocaine smugglers saw an opportunity when colonial governments banned cocaine imports, and took advantage of their place within the Japanese imperial sphere to acquire drugs and penetrate colonial markets. The evidence presented here thus highlights the place of opportunism and entrepreneurialism within the wider history of state efforts to control trade.

Keywords: cocaine, drugs, smuggling, China, Fujian, Xiamen, Singapore, India, Japan, maritime history, East Asia, Southeast Asia

Steven Pieragastini, Boston College

The Leizhou Peninsula in western Guangdong (concurrent with the present-day municipality of Zhanjiang) has at several points in history been an important site of exchange, both licit and illicit in the eyes of central authorities. The French gained control of the area from the weakened Qing government in 1898–1899 and established their “leased territory” of Guangzhouwan. Administered as part of French Indochina, Guangzhouwan became a fiefdom of smugglers, pimps, and pirates, never developing into the rival to Hong Kong that the French hoped it would become. After a brief Japanese occupation, the French returned the leased territory to the government of Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) after World War II, but their colonial presence left a legacy of trafficking, violence, and anti-imperialism that emboldened Communist guerrillas in the area. Once the Communists came into power in 1949, they subjected Zhanjiang and other liminal spaces along the Chinese coast to vigorous anti-smuggling and anti-drug campaigns. But a return to smuggling in the Reform Era (1978–present) suggests that the successful repression of smuggling in the Mao era may have been a temporary exception to the historical rule in this region.

Keywords: French imperialism, French Indochina, opium, smuggling, China, People’s Republic, Guangzhouwan, Zhanjiang, Reform Era, anti-corruption

Review Essays, Notes & Bibliographies

Sabine Frühstück, University of California, Santa Barbara

Historians D. Colin Jaundrill and Nicolas Schillinger have given us two books full of excellent reasons for historians to take the militarism of modernity most seriously. Despite the similarities across modernizing nation-states, as well as of notions of the modern man across national boundaries—on the surface at least—Jaundrill and Schillinger have two rather different puzzles to solve. In Japan, the modern soldier emerged from a long-standing warrior tradition. In China, the modern military emerged from the previous social and cultural neglect of the military; it was instead shaped to overcome the “sick man of East Asia” (dongya bingfu) notion that was omnipresent around the turn of the twentieth century.... These scholars have turned the next corner of the historical analysis of military establishments in modern East Asia. They apply different critical methodologies to show the enormity of resources that have been invested in establishing and maintaining the military. They show how militaries as institutions shape and transform societies and how they have aggressively—and sometimes subtly—shaped and reshaped social processes and identities. Now, the rest of us just need to listen—or, rather, read...

Bill Hayton, Chatham House

The two books under review here demonstrate some of the diversity of writing within the discipline of international relations. In China’s Troubled Waters: Maritime Disputes in Theoretical Perspectives, political scientist Steve Chan, following Kant, describes his style as “nomothetic,” “which emphasizes attention to classes of events rather than specific episodes” (vii). Strategic and defense studies scholar Do Thanh Hai’s Vietnam and the South China Sea: Politics, Security and Legality is an example of what Chan calls the “idiographic approach,” focusing “on the more unique or specific aspects of the situation” (vii). Chan wants to be able to generalize and compare, and he explicitly eschews narratives of “who did what to whom.” Hai, on the other hand, is keen to make clear that it is China who did something to Vietnam. The most obvious criticism to make of his book is that it is written from an overtly Vietnamese perspective. That is a weakness, but also potentially a draw for those interested in the formulation of Vietnamese policy. Chan writes from an ostensibly neutral position, but, as we shall see, his analysis is rooted within a Chinese world view...

Fabio Lanza, University of Arizona

Both Maggie Clinton and Reto Hofmann are clearly aware that writing about “fascism” means dealing with a topic whose relevance is not simply historical—tarring something, even in the seemingly defunct past, with the “f-word” always involves taking a political stance. Still, they probably did not imagine that their books would see the light at a time when “fascists,” either self-professed or identified by others as such, take to the streets of cities around the world with rekindled arrogance, and “fascism” unabashedly claims a place in the supposedly free “marketplace of ideas.” It was therefore difficult, at least for this reader, to approach these volumes without an eerie feeling, a ringing echo of sorts. But it would be a disservice to the work that Clinton and Hofmann have done to let ourselves be too reflexively swayed by what French historian Marc Bloch called “the virus of the present” and fall into simple analogies. The temptation, I must admit, is strong... 

Sherzod Muminov, University of East Anglia

Japan’s war for empire ended in September 1945, as World War II drew to a close. Pinpointing its outbreak, however, is less straightforward: did it start with the July 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident, with the September 1931 Manchurian Incident, or, earlier yet, with the 1910 annexation of Korea? The lack of a single accepted narrative is symptomatic of broader divisions over history between Japan and its neighbors, primarily China and South Korea. As a result, the path toward reconciliation has proven tortuous, beset on all sides by persistent disagreements about past events. Two new books approach these disputes from the perspectives of anthropology (Yukiko Koga’s Inheritance of Loss) and sociology (Hiro Saito’s The History Problem), highlighting the complexity of imperial vestiges inherited by the current generations in East Asia. From their distinct yet complementary vantage points, both books enrich the debate on the outcomes of the Second World War in East Asia. Their findings illuminate the obstacles on the way to reconciliation, but also highlight the potential for compromise...

Jong-chun Park, Korea University

God Pictures in Korean Contexts: The Ownership and Meaning of Shaman Paintings is a pioneering work, one that explores the proverbial “road not taken” by previous research on the subject. The authors situate “the lives of Korean shaman paintings [musindo] in a complex South Korean world; in shaman shrines, private collections, and museums." Incorporating their vivid experiences in the field, authors Laurel Kendall, anthropologist and curator at the American Museum of Natural History; Jongsung Yang, collector and director of the Museum of Shamanism in Seoul; and Yul Soo Yoon, art historian and director of the Gahoe Museum in Seoul, investigate not merely the religious meanings and functions of shaman paintings, but how these meanings and functions are accepted, appropriated, and even created, depending on the interests of various participants—shamans, painters, collectors of shaman paintings, and so on—who are relevant to these visual forms of expressive culture...